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Debunking the theory that the Lakers have lost their “luster”

“Love trade makes it official: Lakers’ luster is gone.”

Was that headline created by someone looking for click bait or by a not-so closet Laker hater? Whatever the case may be – and there’s a good chance they were both: a Laker-hating click-baiter – the theory that the purple and gold have lost their “luster” couldn’t be any further from the truth, especially when it comes to the Kevin Love situation.

“Slowly, agonizingly, Laker fans are facing the reality that the NBA’s great players don’t have to wear Laker raiment to feel complete,” Mark Whicker writes in one of the worst columns I’ve read all year. “The latest destiny’s child was supposed to be Kevin Love. From the moment he expressed weariness with Minnesota, Lakers fans nodded their heads expectantly. Let’s see –- win the lottery, draft Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker, get Kobe Bryant rolling again, and trade whomever’s left for Love and sign him. How could Kevin Durant or any future legend resist that?

“This is what happens when you sit in too many traffic jams and get fined for watering your yard. You lose touch.”

Lose your touch? The franchise that won an NBA championship just four years ago has lost their touch? The franchise that traded for Chris Paul (I know, bringing up “the veto” is getting old now, but it was still a franchise-changing decision) has lost their touch? The team that landed an All-Star point guard in Steve Nash – just months after being denied of Paul – and flipped a broken down center who would soon be looking for a large, multi-year extension for a shot at Dwight Howard has lost their touch?

The accomplishments mentioned in that last paragraph happened over a two-year period: The Lakers won their sixteenth championship in 2010 and were already lining up moves to create another dynasty just months later. For most franchises, such moments and blockbuster transactions take decades to achieve. Not so much for the Lakers.

Sure, those moves didn’t work out – David Stern and the NBA’s owners prevented Paul from wearing the purple and gold, while Nash suffered a freak injury in just his second game as a Laker which would derail the remainder of his career, and Howard was simply not a good fit, but was still well worth the gamble seeing as Andrew Bynum isn’t even in the NBA right now – but the fact is that the capability to pull off such trades and signings is something that is most definitely in the repertoire of both Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss, a pair who have been successfully working together since 1998.

Yes, it appears that the Lakers will miss out on the chance of signing Kevin Love next summer when he becomes a free agent, but that’s not because the Cleveland Cavaliers suddenly have a Jerry West-esque general manager working for them. The fact of the matter is they simply got lucky – and that’s a huge understatement.

After LeBron James left town in 2010, the Cavaliers had some of the worst rosters ever known to man – just ask new Lakers head coach Byron Scott – which lead to them getting super lucky in the NBA’s Draft Lottery three times – yes, three times – which resulted in the drafting of Kyrie Irving, Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins.

With LeBron having success in Miami and winning two championships, the door was opened for the Ohio native to return home this summer, especially with a rising star in Irving on the roster, as well as the expectation of the team to deal Bennett and Wiggins for Love.

The Lakers simply didn’t have the assets to trade for Love because they have been more successful than the super lucky Cavs over the years. If Wiggins doesn’t fall into their laps – they had a 1.9 percent chance of winning the lottery in May – then there’s a good chance Cleveland aren’t in the running for Love this summer. It’s also not that far-fetched to imagine that LeBron would have decided to stay in Miami if teaming up with Love didn’t seem possible.

“The trade reaffirms an important point about Tiffany free agents,” Whicker writes. “It is not where they want to play. It is with whom they want to play.”

So, Shaquille O’Neal signed with the Lakers in 1996 to play with the 13th overall pick in the draft (granted, he would eventually pan out to be the Black Mamba, but few knew that at the time) did he? Carmelo Anthony chose to stay in New York so he could go to war with Andrea Bargnani, right? Of course not. The big factors here were the locations of those teams and the incredible amounts of money that were involved.

O’Neal not only signed with the Lakers because of their history and placement in the Entertainment Capital of the World, but because they offered him a seven-year contract worth $121 million, a type of deal that is no longer legal under the NBA’s current Collective Bargaining Agreement. Similarly, Melo took the Knicks’ five-year, $124 million offer over the smaller four-year, $96 million deals that the likes of the Lakers and Bulls were presenting to him.

Again, due to the current CBA, the Lakers were unable to match New York’s offer to Anthony: The CBA is now designed to keep players – especially draft picks and stars – with their current teams by capping the size of the contracts they can be offered by rival teams. Even if they wanted to, Kupchak and Buss couldn’t offer a Shaq-type deal to Melo this summer as the rules have changed drastically over the years.

By trading for Love, and acquiring his Bird rights in the process, the Cavaliers will be able to offer the All-Star big man a five-year deal next summer while also giving him the opportunity to play alongside James and Irving. There aren’t many players – if any – who would turn down that kind of win-win deal.

“It’s an unintended consequence of the money explosion,” Whicker writes at the end of his article. “You don’t have to play in L.A. or New York to get really rich or be really famous. Any market can win.”

Since when was this breaking news? You don’t have to look that far back before you come across championships won by teams in small markets – San Antonio and Detroit instantly spring to mind – and it’s also not uncommon for big-name players to land big-money deals despite not being in New York or Los Angeles. For example, Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder is reportedly on the verge of accepting a $325 million contract from Under Armor (he’s currently with Nike) and players such as Philadelphia’s Allen Iverson have been paid handsomely by their own endorsement deals over the years.

Still, the fact that there’s money to be made in smaller markets doesn’t mean there’s not even more to be had in larger ones.

Last season, despite experiencing their worst campaign in franchise history since moving to the City of Angels, the Lakers were the most profitable team in the league with an astounding $158.3 million in profits, according to the L.A. Times. The Chicago Bulls came second at $75.7 million, which is still an impressive number but less than half of the amount raked in by the purple and gold – again, the Lakers achieved this during an off-year.

Also, it was no coincidence that Anthony was said to be seriously considering the possibility of signing with the Lakers this summer after hearing the team’s pitch which was heavily focussed on off-court business ventures for Melo and his wife, La La Vasquez.

Yes, there’s money to be made in any NBA city if you’re big-time star, but there’s even more cash to be had in the larger markets, especially Los Angeles – and even more so with the Lakers.

At the end of the day, saying this Kevin Love trade somehow indicates that the Lakers have suddenly lost their “luster” makes absolutely no sense. Love isn’t a free agent this summer – he’s under contract. The Cavaliers had all the pieces fall together at the same time which enabled them to make a play for Love via trade. That doesn’t make them any smarter or suddenly more of an attractive destination than the Lakers – they simply got lucky, and that luck began by drafting an Ohio native with the first-overall pick in 2003 (you really think that LeBron would be returning to Cleveland to play for Dan Gilbert if he wasn’t born just miles down the road?).

While this may not be the sexy way of thinking, Laker fans must simply be patient while they wait for Kupchak and Buss to rebuild the franchise into a title contender. All teams have down years, even the Lakers, who also struggled during the early to mid 90s and again in the mid 2000s.

These things take time. The Lakers have only just rid themselves of hefty contracts that were created under the previous CBA and now have large amounts of cap space at their disposal. They’re not going to throw their money at the first player they come across; they’re going to take their time to decide how to commit their long-term dollars, which can be achieved via either free agency or trade.

While it looks like Kevin Love is no longer a realistic target for the purple and gold next year, there will be other free agency candidates in the coming summers such as Marc Gasol, Rajon Rondo and Kevin Durant. And then there’s always the chance of Kupchak pulling off one of his legendary out of the blue trades to instantly turn the franchise into a championship contender once again.

So, while the haters may be hoping (and praying) for the demise of the purple and gold, the Lakers still have their “luster” and will most certainly be back at the top of the mountain in the not too distant future – it’s just going to take a little time, that’s all.

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